Sunday, January 22, 2012

Flick of The Day: Revolutionary Road

Today's flick of the day is Sam Mendes adaptation of Richard Yates novel of suburban isolation and marital discord in 1950's America, Revolutionary Road. Tracing through many of the same themes as Mendes earlier work American Beauty, this is a beautiful and tragic tale with strong performances from Leonardo DiCaprioKate Winslet and an impressive turn from Michael Shannon.
Opening in the late 1940's, Frank played by DiCaprio in perhaps his most mature and studied performance to date meets April, played by the always reliable Kate Winslet. Frank is a drifting longshoreman while April is an aspiring actress. They fall in love, each attracted to their own belief that they will do something special with their lives. After their initial meeting, we fast forward to find them living in the idyllic surroundings of Revolutionary Road. This whitewashed paradise of suburbia hides the quiet isolation of its inhabitants. All is not well with Wheeler family. Frank is trapped in a career he detests, afraid he is becoming more like his father, working for an office equipment company. April is equally dissatisfied with life, finding the cloying life of a suburban housewife too much to bare. Where once they imagined themselves as free spirits, they are gradually coming to the conclusion that they are just the same as the other denizens of their bedroom community. As their marriage begins to disintegrate, they lash out at each other in increasingly vicious arguments while each begins joyless extramarital affairs. Into this maelstrom arrives the mentally unstable son of a neighbour John, played with a brilliant mordancy by Michael Shannon that leaves your with the belief that he is the only really sane character. As the film moves towards its shocking and affecting conclusion, the tension becomes almost too much to take and the frustration of Frank and April boils over with disastrous consequences.
Mendes uses all of his skill as a director to create the glossy and clean image of suburban America in all its 1950's glory. It is a very beautifully shot film, with vibrant colours that capture the era. No less of an achievement is the manner in which this surface sheen is shown to be deeply flawed beneath the surface. To the outside, Frank and April are the perfect couple but underneath they are dying. Winslet and DiCaprio have a natural chemistry and this makes the viciousness of their arguments all the more compelling. If there is one criticism of Mendes storytelling it is that after the brief scene were they meet, we never really see how they got together. As an audience, we don't know what they have invested in the relationship and thus can easily find yourself wondering why they try and stay together?
Frank and April have built up this public façade as they perfect couple that are above the fray and feel the need perhaps to keep it up. This façade is quickly taken apart by the character of John played by a brilliant Michael Shannon. A mentally troubled mathematician who has undergone electroshock therapy, he cuts to the very core of what is wrong with them as people, their deep dysfunction. As he is scorned by those around him, we see that perhaps John is nowhere near as crazy as he looks.

John Givings: The hopeless emptiness? Now, you've said it. Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness...

John is judged to be mentally unstable because his emotions are out front for the world to see. He never seems to have an unspoken thought and is in stark contrast to the buttoned down nature of those around him. He brings truth to a house of lies and is scorned for it. It is a terrific performance much like his recent turn in Take Shelter as another unstable outsider.
At times the cloying atmosphere of despair can make this film tough going. It is dark and there is no happy ending but that does not make it any less relevant of extremely well made. Between Mendes direction and the performances he draws from a very fine cast, this is drama of the highest order.




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